Neil deGrasse Tyson | Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Episode 617)

Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium and author of number one New York Times Bestseller Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

“As the area of your knowledge grows, so too does the perimeter of your ignorance.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Cheat Sheet:

  • How does a seasoned scientist maintain childlike curiosity?
  • Understand the power of science to transcend bias.
  • Find out why Neil didn’t have typical public speaking jitters when he gave his first lecture at age fifteen.
  • Do you have to be a math wizard to pursue science?
  • What enlightened leadership (from either side of the aisle) understands about the value of science — and why science denial has surged so dramatically in recent years.
  • And so much more…


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On this episode of The Art of Charm, we’re pleased to present science champion Neil deGrasse Tyson. His complete resume would be too lengthy to list here, but some highlights include Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and StarTalk, and author of The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

If you already know who he is, he needs no further introduction. And if you don’t know who he is, you have our permission to take in this episode twice. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!

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More About This Show

Long-time listeners of The Art of Charm Podcast already know how we feel about that meaningless “find your passion” nugget that gets passed around in certain circles ad infinitum. As Cal Newport and other guests have pointed out, working right trumps finding the right work. That is: because we don’t always know what our passions are, we don’t really know where to look. In the end, our passions tend to find us if we cast a wide enough net.

But some people, like Astrophysics for People in a Hurry author Neil deGrasse Tyson, are lucky enough to have their passions find them with laser focus early in life. Taking for granted his obsession with astronomy, it wasn’t until college — where he witnessed his less focused peers scrambling to declare majors — that he realized not everyone was so lucky.

Crediting this intense love for science as a force that continues to foster lifelong curiosity, it’s also what rescued him from public speaking jitters when he gave his first lecture at age fifteen.

Of the experience, Neil says, “If you love something so deeply and you know a lot about it and someone says, ‘Tell me about it,’ are you nervous? No, you’ll just start talking!”

Sure, he might have done it for free, but the speaker’s fee was certainly a nice bonus at the time.

For the less-than-lucky among us who perhaps had an inkling of a love for science but chose other paths based on parental influence or a lackluster aptitude for math, Neil assures us there’s room for science in any field.

“Of course if you have high math ability, the sky’s the limit,” says Neil. “But if you don’t…there are artists who reach for the universe as their creative muse. There are attorneys who are trying to create a new frontier of space law. Who owns this patch of land on the moon if you get there first? Do you get to homestead it? Who owns the mineral rights to the asteroid that you paid a mission to go visit?

“And so I think almost no matter your mathematical ability, there are places you can plug in that still have tremendous value — provided you love what you do.”

Low expectation for mathematical acumen in this country may be indicative of a larger problem: an educational system that stresses the retention of information over the critical processing of that information.

“You get a kid in a math class and they already have some established interest somewhere else. And they’ll recite the following phrase: ‘I will never need to know this for the rest of my life. Why am I slogging over it now?’ And I think that’s the wrong outlook. Because that ignores what hoops the brain goes through just to solve a problem.

“The statement would be true if learning was, ‘I will learn all these things I need to know to do things I will one day need to do.’ But that’s really not what learning should be, because that ossifies you into whatever…were the hot topics at the time you were in school.

“A more powerful posture would be having had your brain trained for thought and analysis and processing information. Then, if there’s a new thing you’ve never seen before, you will just attack it with vigor…because it’s an unsolved problem. And you can’t get enough unsolved problems.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about why an interest in science serves every field of expertise (from law to art), what education should ideally train us for, why Neil likes writing with fountain pens, what Neil sees as evidence of the supreme height of illiteracy prevalent in the era of the smartphone, how support for science has historically been bipartisan over the course of American history, how science denial has gained a global foothold by — ironically enough — the use of that very science, why Neil rarely interviews other scientists on his StarTalk podcast, what Neil has to say in rebuttal to Walt Whitman, what it’ll take for the US to get to Mars before China, why it’s dangerous for people to claim the Earth is flat, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Neil deGrasse Tyson, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Neil deGrasse Tyson at Twitter!

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Jordan Harbinger - author of 952 posts on The Art of Charm

Jordan Harbinger has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war zones, and been kidnapped -- twice. He’ll tell you the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of) just about any type of situation. Here at The Art of Charm, Jordan shares that experience, and the system borne as a result, with students and clients.


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